Using LED lights for wedding photography
Today, we are moving things up a notch by using LED lights for wedding photography. If you’ve ever photographed a wedding, there is a good chance you used a strobe to capture the event. Maybe it was a hot shoe strobe, or maybe you set up strobes on light stands in strategic places on the floor. But you can do better with LED video lights.
I started experimenting with LED lights for weddings a while back, but I was always missing on some power. Now, I am using a couple of Zhiyun x100 LEDs (those), and let me tell you, 100 Watts makes a big difference.
Table of contents
- Why move to LED for wedding photography
- My setup using LED lights for wedding photography
- Powering LED lights at weddings
Why move to LED for wedding photography
LEDs have come a long way since they first appeared. And looking at the current market offering, it has some real advantages over some other setups with strobes. There are still cases where strobes win, specifically when a ton of power is needed, but LEDs are now at a place where they have some real advantages.
Obviously, you get all the benefits of using continuous lights. LEDs have no recycle time, like you have with strobes. You can shoot at higher FPS. Or alternatively, be able to catch a good moment without worrying about flash availability. Another big advantage is the ability to control the temperature of the light and make sure it fits the atmosphere in the venue.
LED video lights are small and light
I was quite surprised at this, but in fact, a couple of Zhiyun X100 lights are not significantly bigger than three or four iPhones stacked together. This is partly because the technology has advanced, and partly because the Zhiyun x100 have a unique form factor. They are flat.
This means that they are easily packed in my wedding photography bag. But it also means that they have a low footprint when mounted on a stand. Combine this with the low weight of LEDs, and LEDs suddenly look like a very enticing option.
You don’t need cables for LED video lights
This is another thing I love about new tech. It is becoming battery-powered. You can run the lights on an internal battery, so no cables are going to the wall. (You could if you wanted to, but you don’t have to). This is particularly critical with wedding photography, because there is usually quite a bit of crowd next to the lights, and any cable going from the light to the wall is a light stand accident waiting to happen. If you’ve never had a person trip on a cable you are either very careful, very lucky, or have not ben in the business long enough.
The fan on the Zhiyun x100 is silent
I’ll admit that one of my concerns going from 60-watt LED video lights with passive cooling to a full-fledged 100-watt light was the fan noise. My previous 60-watt lights had no fan, and obviously no fan noise. But the Molus X100 has a built-in fan, and I needed to make sure that they don’t interfere with the work of the videographers. (Unlike common thinking, we still photographers actually care about your video people). The happy news is that the fan is almost silent and not audible at a wedding ceremony.
Sharing is caring
I was serious when I said that I cared about the videographers shooting the wedding. By using LED lights for shooting the wedding ceremony, I am helping them twice.
For starters, they get extra light, which, if placed properly, can be a real lifesaver for the videographers. But a nice added bonus is that they don’t get flash pops, which can interfere with both videography and sound.
My setup using LED lights for wedding photography
In some ways, using LED lights is a lot like using strobes – you need a stand to position the lights in a three-dimensional space. I typically use two Zhiyun x100 lights mounted on light stands on each side of the ceremony. This gives me a nice and even light. I anchor the stands to the floor using weights.
The lights are small enough to get really high, and depending on the ceremony location, I can sometimes hide them all together.
Getting softer light
Just like strobes, COB LEDs generate light from a single point. The beam form is a bit different, but it is still a hard light. Depending on the distance from the newlywed, I go with one of these options:
- Go “bare bulb”, and use found elements to create diffusion. This can be bouncing off a white wall, or using a Chuppah “roof” or “walls” as makeshift diffusing scrims. You’d be amazed at the amount of options you have if you just look around.
- Another option is to use a small dome diffuser that you can get for the Zhiyun x100. Those are small and soft, and for many situations, they provide enough diffusion.
- The last option is to use the “good old” brolly. And if I need to get far enough from the ceremony. I’ll use those.
Combing LEDs with strobes
My setup is leaning more and more towards LED now. But sometimes there is no choice and you need to add a strobe. In those cases, I will use a bracket that mounts an AD200 along with the Molus x100.
Typically, you do not need a strobe if you are using an LED setup. That said, you may want to have a backup until you get comfortable with shooting using LEDs.
The other reason to have a strobe is to mitigate bad lighting from the venue. If the venue has horrible LEDs or fluorescents, you may not be able to use LEDs at all. A badly lit venue may create banding effects on your photos. This usually happens if the venue has low quality or old technology) LEDs that are poorly dimmed.
Controlling LED video lights at a wedding
If you are a wedding photographer, you know this. Sometimes, you need to control your lights’ output. With Strobes, you typically do that with a remote mounted on the camera. With LEDs, you use an App.
The Zhiyun app lets you turn the brightness up or down, and control the temperature. It also gives you the option to set the lights to zero brightness. This is extremely useful to save battery when the lights are not in use. You can place the lights, turn them on, and then set them to zero power until you need them.
PRO TIP: If you are indeed using an app to control the lights, make sure you set your phone to exclude the app from power management. It will reconnect to the x100s faster this way
Powering LED lights at weddings
The Zhiyun Molus x100 Pro and Combo kits come with an attachable battery. (The “bare “standard” kit has no battery, so get one of the other kits ). This is a medium-sized battery that would last about 30 minutes on full power. Of course, if you are only using 50% brightness, it would last an hour.
If most of your ceremonies last this long, you are good. But if you want more power (or more time), the Zhiyun x100 takes USBC power, which means you can use a power bank to power your wedding lights.
The setup that works for me is using the Tether Tools PD battery ($179.99) strapped to the light stand. This battery can deliver 100W continuously so that I can use the lights at full power. It is slim in shape so I can put a couple of those in my bag. Lastly, the capacity on this battery is 100 Watts, so at full power (which is also 100 watts), it adds a full hour of runtime to my kit. That puts the total runtime at 90 minutes. Now, if your wedding ceremony lasts over 90 minutes, you probably have other things to worry about, like getting hydrated. Just kidding. You can swap batteries if needed.
I started my migration from strobes to LED lights for wedding photography almost a year ago, and I could not be happier. Using a light that is relatively tiny, needs no cables, and never fails to trigger is a big improvement. The only issue that I had was power, and that was solved with the x100 delivering 100 watts of continuous lights. If I am counting advantages vs. strobes, let me also add temperature control and videography fellowship to the mix.
Tom Saimon is a boutique wedding and fashion photographer based in Haifa, Israel. Tom founded one of most sought-after wedding photography boutiques in Israel and shoots over 100 weddings a year, making him not only an established photogrpher, but also an authority in the industry. Tom is regularly featured in fashion and wedding magazines as a style benchmark